Vladimir Ulyanov was born on April 22, 1870, in Simbirsk.
Social Democracy will go through exile in Siberia, through intellectual activity in Western Europe, will create an international revolutionary group from the remnants of the Second International, which collapsed in the clash with World War II, and after a spontaneous revolution in Russia Ulyanov, already known as Lenin, will put his revolutionary theory into practice in the second Russian revolution of 1917, directing the country towards socialist transformations. Only this quick overview of Lenin’s activities in his short 54-year life makes him an important historical figure.
Why, then, is there so little talk of the 150th anniversary of his birth? For historians, the answer is clear – because these celebrations are a matter of politics, not history. In his homeland, the authorities do not intend to mark the anniversary because today’s Russia is based on revived nationalism, while Lenin is one of the most consistent internationalists and opponents of the Russian Empire.
The main reason for the silence, of course, is the collapse of Soviet-style state socialism, which, thanks to his efforts, the October Revolution was established first in Russia and then in much of Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The question, however, is to what extent this collapse is due to Lenin’s fundamental ideas or their evolution after his death. And it should be noted that the model failed in Europe, but not in Asia.
And to the argument that in Asia it is no longer a question of socialism, but of state capitalism, it is easy to answer that in fact in China and Vietnam the reforms began on the model of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP). In this situation, it is completely natural for Lenin to remain silent in modern politics, in which unlimited capitalism, more favorably called neoliberalism, prevails, and nationalism is revived. The more important task of historians is to recall how Lenin’s work changed the world.
I will begin with his ability to develop Marxism in the light of the world that has changed in the decades since Marx’s death. It is about Lenin’s theory of imperialism (he is not the author of the term, but interprets it in a Marxist way) in the context of the global conflict – the First World War.
The adaptation of revolutionary Marxism to these new conditions may also be called a revision of Marx, but it is a development of his ideas. And Lenin’s main conclusion is that the uneven development of the leading European states leads to conflicts between them, but also to the possibility of the revolution breaking out not simultaneously, but first in a country where the contradictions are deepest and from where this revolution spreads. whole Europe.
Is that so? The proof is the two Russian revolutions of 1917. And analysts who accuse Lenin of destroying the Russian Empire must be reminded that in 1916 he said that the revolution was imminent, but he would hardly live to see it until the beginning. in 1917 the February Revolution did not break out.
However, it is not the work of Lenin, but the result of the actions of the Russian Empire. His thesis about Russia’s revolutionary potential proved to be true, and the revolution that ended the Russian Empire was truly spontaneous. The destroyers of the Russian Empire were not Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but the then rulers.
It was only after the success of the February Revolution that Lenin intervened with the idea of deepening it and turning it into a pan-European one, thus realizing the international slogan: Turn the imperialist war into a civil war! That is, to make the transition from the war outside to revolution inside.
This is the meaning of Lenin’s efforts for a new revolution in Russia, which ended successfully in late October (early November in a new style) 1917. Thus began perhaps the greatest social experiment of the twentieth century.
What else should we remember about Lenin? In my opinion, first of all with his consistent internationalism. It leads him to the destruction of the Russian Empire, to the recognition of the right of subordinate peoples to fight for independence. All this is present in the first legislative act of the October Revolution, the Decree of Peace, prepared by Lenin.
It stated for the first time the right of nations to self-determination, which two months will be repeated in the 14 points of US President Woodrow Wilson and will later be included in the documents of the League of Nations and even later on The United Nations.
Moreover, according to the “Decree of Peace”, this right applies not only to the peoples of the Russian Empire but to all oppressed peoples in the world, primarily from the colonial empires. The long-term impact of Lenin’s thesis completely changed the map of our modern world.
At first glance, Lenin’s thesis supports the rise of nationalism, but in practice, it does not contradict internationalism, that is, the unification of states. As the subsequent history of Europe shows, true unification can be achieved not by subordinating one people to another, but by their equality and their free will.
Lenin criticized the slogan for the European United States, not because it was international, but because it was not international enough – for him it should be for the United States, and unification must take place on a much broader social basis.
Internationalism continues to be at the forefront of world development today, as it is at the heart of many global and regional organizations. And also because the world is facing more and more problems, the solution of which can be sought only by global efforts, and not by national or regional ones.
Undoubtedly the most striking characteristic of Lenin as an activist and thinker is his belief in revolution as a path to social development. He is carrying out a revolution that seems completely impossible to most Russian and world analysts – the October Revolution. And not just as control of power, but as overcoming the huge internal and external obstacles that it has to deal with. Only Lenin’s ability to change his position following the changed realities managed to overcome all the dangers and establish himself in the most important 5 years – from 1917 to 1922.
However, Lenin’s faith in the pan-European revolution failed to materialize. A revolution broke out in Germany in November 1918, there were revolutionary events in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire, but they covered only defeated countries. This unattainable goal shows that Lenin is not a prophet, but a revolutionary who underestimates the power of nationalism.
The most significant result of Lenin’s theory of revolution came later. It is not in its global spread, but in the creation of an alternative to the dominant system of capitalism – such a role is played by socialism, established after the October Revolution.
The cost of building this alternative is not small, but is the establishment of capitalism at a lower cost? The new alternative is in the attempt to build a society in which the driving force is not selfishness and the pursuit of profit, but the development of the whole society through the care of all its members. This goal seems utopian, but efforts to achieve it greatly reduce inequalities and make societies much more united and united.
The social alternative, introduced into the world by socialism, became a driving force for the development of the twentieth century. And this is evident both in international relations and the emergence of a new phenomenon – the welfare state in developed countries.
It is established thanks to the competition of the socialist welfare state or at least its propaganda image. And we see confirmation of the role of the socialist alternative in the disintegration of the welfare state, which we have seen in the last decades since the end of the Cold War when the European socialist alternative is disappearing.
Despite all the well-founded criticisms of the socialist path that began with the October Revolution, its enormous potential for accelerating the catching-up development of peripheral countries can hardly be denied. This is the essence of Lenin’s idea of establishing large-scale machine production in Russia and the full electrification so exploited by propaganda.
There can be little doubt that thanks to socialist industrialization, the Soviet Union was the only country that managed to withstand the German lightning war of 1941 because this battle has not only military but also economic and ideological characteristics.
The role of the state in industrialization and the building of socialism is extremely great. But Lenin has always believed that this role is temporary because the state is a repressive structure, so it must be replaced by a self-organizing society. We are still very far from this perspective, but I do not think we should give it up lightly.
I have listed only some of Lenin’s realized and unrealized ideas, which are still relevant today. There are others, and all of them together provide him with a lasting place in history. As for the estimates, they can be very different, but also change, especially in the perspective of the passing of time, which separates the permanent from the fleeting.
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